Friday, 19 December 2014

A moment with Shoji.

The nearest most of us get to a work by Hamada are glossy pictures in coffee table books or as close as you can press your nose against a glass display case in a museum.

I did get the chance to handle a piece from the York Museum archive once. A splendid press moulded bottle, beautifully decorated in that free and sure way that Hamada had. The form was classic and unmistakable, but when I lifted it there was somewhat of a shock to feel the weight of it. Thick walls and hefty base and when I flipped it over to examine the base, as everyone does when given a pot to hold, it was crudely finished. Running an exploratory finger around the inside of the neck revealed a slug of clay and an unfinished joint. The fantasy ruined.

Recently another opportunity came my way to get up close and personal with a Hamada bowl. Mine was a small part in an elaborate journey. The bowl had somehow found its way to the USA and then onto Ebay. It was offered as a Hamada, but this had not been verified. It was purchased as such and shipped by the vendor in a very flimsy box with minimal bubble wrap, arriving in England to it's eager new owner in several pieces.

Deciding that having indulged and gone down the road so far, sure that these pieces of pot were a Hamada, he set about making arrangements to have the bowl repaired and restored. It was given to a friend to transport to Rufford and entrusted to me to look after and pass on the the next person in this long chain, who knew the restorer ... Simple.

It stayed with me all weekend, in it's flimsy box, tucked carefully under my stall, checking frequently that it was still there and still ok, even though it was a busted pot in a crappy card box. No one came to collect it, it's journey stalled. It looked very sad, so I carefully packed the box making sure it was secure and safe in my van for the journey home and further instruction.

The temptation to open the box and have a peek at this precious work was just too much, gingerly unwrapping the biggest of the shards, (Should I have worn white cotton gloves)? revealed the extent of the break. How on earth do you put that back together? Some of the splinters were tiny. I decided to record the shattered bowl best I could. I never give my pots the care and love I gave this shattered bowl as I unwrapped each fragment.


I am no expert on Shoji Hamada's work but I am aware that he must have made hundreds of these bowls. They were made as utensils to be used, enjoyed as part of daily use, not museum pieces or even gallery icons. As part of the Mingei movement in Japan, Hamada did not sign or mark his work, he made pots as he was trained, to sell and make a living, not believing that 60 years on they would change hands for hundreds of pounds.

Now, even to my untutored eye this bowl is no masterpiece. There are air holes in the clay walls and gaps where vegetive matter has burned away. The decoration not fluent or assured. If I didn't know otherwise it would be just another stoneware dish. So I dutifully packed it all in a better box, wrapping each piece of the ceramic puzzle and it went on it's way on the next leg of it's amazing journey.

Now finally restored, it is possible to see and appreciate the bowl as it must have been when it emerged from the kiln. Not many humble dishes could boast such an interesting journey and maybe it doesn't end here.